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And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 16:15-17:8
You don’t ever tell me you love me.
Well, I’d just like to hear it once in a while.
But you know I do.
Yes, but you don’t say it any more.
Look, I told you right after our wedding that I love you. I’m telling you now, if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.
I know it’s a pretty lame joke. But, ugh…that’s not a very romantic conversation. We need to hear these things again and again. For there are many distractions and influences that cast doubt on the love even between committed married couples. In the case of saying, “I love you,” once is not enough.
I’m convinced that God is repeating his promise to Abram, re-confirming his covenant, and giving Abram a new name because he needs to hear it again. He is now to be known as Abraham. From “Father” to “Father of many” his name reflects a reaffirmation of God’s promise and the future destiny of Abraham’s descendants.
Ishmael’s birth – thirteen years before – isn’t the answer to God’s promise. There is one yet to come. But it’s been nearly 25 years since the Lord made the first promise. Abram and Sarai have been waiting and no child has been born. And while there is a fine line between happy talk and needed reassurance, Abram needs to hear it again. You are the man. You will be the father of many nations. Let’s start calling you who you are to be: Abraham.
There is also an edge to this promise and reminder. God is asking something of Abraham even as he reiterates his promise. It’s as though the Lord is saying, “Since you are to be the Father of Many Nations, align your life with your name. Stick with me and and don’t depart from my ways. Live up to your name.”
The word of God abounds with promises of God for his people. Promises to hear and answer prayers. Promises to forgive sins. Promises to lead us through difficult times. Promises to be with us always. Promises for eternal life. Promises of the resurrection and the life of the world to come. Promises that whatever sacrifices we make this side of eternity are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.
Times pass slowly as we wait to see the fulfillment of these promises. That’s why God has repeated them for us to hear and believe. As we wait, we who are both saint and sinner, need also to be reminded to live up to our identity as daughters and sons of God.
God has reminded us of this many times. Because once is not enough.